Ted Cruz, launching his presidential campaign into a state whose late-arriving primary could prove decisive for the first time in decades, on Monday claimed momentum from recent victories in Wisconsin and Colorado and yoked himself to the legacy of Ronald Reagan, the former president and California governor idolized by conservatives.
“This is the birthplace of the Reagan revolution,” the Texas senator said at a rally in Irvine. “And let me tell you, there’s a new revolution brewing.”
Cruz’s appearance at the Hotel Irvine, and a rally set for Monday night in San Diego, marked the candidate’s first public steps in California since it became clear last month that the state’s late-arriving primary would likely prove critical to the Republican nomination – either putting frontrunner Donald Trump over the 1,237 delegates necessary to avoid a contested convention or denying him that threshold.
Cruz, a favorite of evangelicals and tea party conservatives, trails Trump by only 7 percentage points among likely Republican voters in California, and he leads the New York businessman in the state’s interior reaches, according to a Field Poll released last week.
But Trump holds an overwhelming lead in the nine-county Southern California region outside of Los Angeles County, including in Orange County, where Cruz campaigned Monday.
Cruz taunted Trump for complaining, as he did recently on Twitter, that it is a “shame that the person who will have by far the most delegates and many millions more votes than anyone else, me, still must fight.”
Addressing about 800 supporters at the Hotel Irvine, Cruz said, “Donald has been yelling and screaming. A lot of whining, I’m sure some cursing and some late-night, fevered tweeting.”
He said, “I’m going to say a sentence that has not been said in 50 years: California is going to decide the Republican nomination.”
The Irvine rally marked the start of a campaign that is likely to stretch across the state in coming weeks, with the presidential candidates involved in local battles for delegates in each of California’s 53 congressional districts. Because California Republicans award nearly all of their 172 delegates by congressional district – three delegates each to the winner of each district – depriving Trump of victories in even a handful of districts could cripple his effort to secure the nomination.
Both Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is running a distant third, plan to speak at the California Republican Party’s convention in Burlingame this month, and Trump planned – then canceled – a news conference outside Los Angeles last week.
Cruz is better organized in the state than either Trump or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, having secured the endorsement of the conservative California Republican Assembly and assembling a network of volunteers in every county. His national spokesman, Ron Nehring, is former chairman of the California Republican Party, and the campaign used Cruz’s appearance in the state on Monday to announce the endorsements of two more state lawmakers, Assemblymen Don Wagner, R-Irvine, and Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach.
Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, a former assemblywoman who also endorsed Cruz, told the crowd that the Republican Party’s contested nominating contest has put California “on the map for a primary, and I never thought I’d see that in my whole life. We matter!”
Cruz’s appearance in Orange County came in one of the few areas of conservative strength in a heavily Democratic state.
In a conference call with reporters ahead of Cruz’s rallies, Democratic Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego bashed Cruz for his role in the 2013 federal government shutdown, calling him “out of touch” and “far to the right of the vast majority of Americans.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, asked about Cruz on Monday, told reporters in Sacramento, “I marvel at the fact he got out of Harvard and has so many lame ideas.”